“About 30 years ago, I was on a 6-hour nonstop flight that included a complimentary full dinner and a snack. The flight was fully booked, and we were on one of the first generations of passenger jets with extremely limited room between rows of seats. So even though I’m not tall, it was discouraging, right after takeoff, to have the young man in front of me immediately recline his seat back as far as it would go, which was very far on that particular craft. He wasn’t napping, either. He just wanted to have as much room as possible, so he could sit cross-legged and sideways in his seat facing his wife. She was seated next to him, and they were playing cards.
I had planned to read my book, but the man’s seat back was literally in my lap, and I had nowhere to hold my book unless I held it in the aisle or in front of my seatmate, who had to contend with the seatback of the young man’s wife in his lap, though at least my seatmate was taller and the wife hadn’t lowered her seat back all the way.
When the flight attendant came around with drinks, she saw immediately that I couldn’t even lower my tray. She politely requested the young couple to put their seatbacks in the upright position. The young woman complied immediately and kept hers upright for the duration of the flight, but her husband made a fuss, complaining that he couldn’t sit comfortably that way, he had paid for his ticket, why did the seats recline if passengers couldn’t use them, etc. The flight attendant prevailed, but as soon as she and the drinks cart had moved forward, he lowered his seat a couple of levels, so that I had to grab my ginger soda to avoid wearing it, as it would have toppled off the tray.
We went through the same nonsense when dinner was served, and again with a later drink and snack service. At every opportunity, he reclined his seat fully. It reached the point that the flight attendants were coming up behind his seat to order him to put it upright, but as soon as they moved on, he would fully recline it again, so I spent most of the flight pinned in my seat. I certainly wasn’t going to give myself room by committing the same rudeness against the passenger behind me, and there wasn’t a free seat on the plane to which I could be moved.
Toward the end of the flight, the senior attendant apologized once more, thanked me for my patience, and asked me to report to a customer service desk belonging to their airline in the airport, so I could be given a travel voucher as an apology. Hearing this, the young man turned around and had a mini-tantrum, saying that he and his wife were on their honeymoon, and being forced and harassed to raise his seat back had spoiled their second day of marriage, so they were the ones who should get a voucher.
‘Oh, shut up, Gerald,’ said the new bride, who had apparently had enough. She pushed past her groom and stalked down the airplane aisle, Gerald in whiny pursuit.
‘I give them six months,’ said my seatmate, handing me my suitcase from the overhead bin.
‘Three if they fly much,’ responded the flight attendant, and everyone around us started to laugh.
I got off the plane surrounded by the broad grins of nearby fellow passengers who had watched the whole thing unfold. I’m pretty sure they felt I had earned my travel voucher.”